Devi, the Goddess in Devi Mahatmya
Devi Mahatmya (or Durga Saptashati) is a powerful and moving text which has a unique significance for most Hindus. Over the centuries it has been recited regularly in Devi temples. Vast numbers of Hindus are familiar with its hymns which sing the praises of Devi and her deeds wherein she vanquishes demons again and again. Devi Mahatmya is part of Markandeya Purana which was probably composed in the sixth century.
You can download a copy of Durga Saptashati from here.
Here is a brief retelling of the origin of Devi from the Devi Mahatmya :
Many many years ago, when Mahisha was the lord of the Asuras and Indra, of the Gods, there was a war between the Gods and Asuras for one hundred years. Finally the Asuras defeated the Gods and Mahishasura (Buffalo-Demon) became Indra. The Gods were expelled from the Heavens and wandered across the earth just like mortals.
In this description of the Devi's origin, Devi is shown here initially as being subordinate to the Gods because she is derived from, and indebted to each of them. But eventually it is she who restores equilibrium on the earth - something the Gods were unable to do on their own. At the end of the battle, Devi does not go back into the bodies of the Gods but she "continues" as an independent entity. Whenever she is called upon by devotees facing calamities, she will appear and punish the culprits.
The Devi Mahatmya portrays the Goddess as the Ultimate, highest reality and the supreme creator who wills creation and sends forth the cosmos. She is said to be the material foundation of the universe, mulaprakriti, the basic material from which the cosmos is formed. She is also embodied as Devi, the Goddess, in which capacity she is a great slayer of Asuras and divine protectress.
Devi Mahatmya asserts that there is only one ultimate reality and this is feminine. She is independent and has supremacy over all forms of life: animal, human and divine. The independent and supreme Devi does not have a male counterpart.
Sheraan Wali Mata
Durga or Sheraan Wali (the Lion Rider) or simply Mata is perhaps the most popular deity in northwest India today.
In commonly available bazaar prints, she is generally shown as having eight arms and as being seated on a lion. In her hands she holds a discus (chakra), club (gada) and a conch (shankh) (given to her by Vishnu) and a trident (trishul), sword (khadga) and bow and arrow (given to her by Shiva). In one of the other hands she holds a lotus, while the remaining hand displays the abhaya (fear not) mudra. She is generally dressed in a blood-red sari, wears jewelry and is beautiful and fair-skinned. Her loose, flowing hair indicates an independent spirit. She is usually shown accompanied by her two bodyguards - Langur Vir (or monkey god Hanuman) and Bhairon (Bhairav, a fierce form of Shiva). Hanuman icons are usually in orange red colour while Bhairon's colour is black.
Shakti, the Divine Power as the Goddess in Vaishnava and Shaiva contexts
Shakti is the energy which is the source and sustenance of all creation. Brahman (the Absolute) of the Vedanta and Shakti of the Tantras are identical. When that 'energy' is in a static condition, when the universe to be created is not even in a seed-form as it were, it is called Brahman. When it starts evolving into this creation, sustains it and withdraws it back to itself, it is called Shakti. If Brahman is the coiled serpent in sleep, Shakti is the same serpent in motion. If Brahman is likened to the world, Shakti is its meaning. If Brahman is like fire, Shakti is its burning power. The two are inseparable.
In the Hindu mythological literature, as also in the Tantras, this energy is always pictured as a female deity, as the consort of its counterpart male deity.
Each member of the Hindu Trinity has his Shakti as his consort: Sarasvati of Brahma, Lakshmi of Vishnu and Parvati of Shiva.
However the mother-cult that has evolved over the last few centuries, is predominantly centred around Parvati, the consort of Shiva.
Mata Shri Chhinnamastika Devi and Mata Shri Chintpurni Devi are considered to be forms of the Mother Goddess.
The Ancient Legend of Sati
Dakshayani, one of the forms of the mother-goddess, was a daughter of Daksha Prajapati, a descendant of Brahma. She was married to Shiva but Daksha did not acknowledge Shiva's divine powers. Once King Daksha was celebrating a great sacrifice (yajna) to which neither Dakshayani nor Shiva were invited. Dakshayani, however, went to the her father’s yajna uninvited but was greatly insulted by Daksha. As a result of her ill-treatment, she threw herself into the sacrificial fire and perished. Hence she came to be known as Sati, the chaste one.
When the news of Sati’s death reached her husband, Shiva became inconsolable and rushed to Daksha's yajna. After the destruction of Daksha’s sacrifice, he wandered over the earth in the dance of destruction (tandava nritya) with Sati’s dead body on his shoulder. The gods now became anxious to free Shiva from his infatuation and hatched a conspiracy to deprive him of his wife’s dead body. Thereupon Vishnu, while following Shiva, cut Sati’s dead body on Shiva’s shoulder piece by piece with his discus (chakra).
The places where pieces of Sati’s body fell then became Shakti Peethas, i.e, holy seats or resorts of the mother-goddess. In all of these peethas, mother-goddess is represented to be constantly living in some form together with a Bhairava, i.e. a form of her consort Shiva. Bhairava is always present as a minor deity in the Shakti-Peethas and has a dog as his companion.
It is believed that parts of Sati’s feet fell in Chintpurni.
Chhinnamastika (Chhinnamasta, Chinnamasta, Chinnamastika) - Goddess without a head
The goddess resident in Chintpurni is also known by this name. According to Markandeya Purana, goddess Chandi defeated the demons after a fierce battle but two of her yogini emanations (Jaya and Vijaya) were still thirsty for more blood. Goddess Chandi cut off her own head to quench Jaya and Vijaya’s thirst for more blood.
She is usually shown holding her own severed head in her hand, drinking one stream of blood spurting from the arteries in her neck, while at her side are two naked yoginis, each of whom drinks another stream of blood.
Chhinnamasta, the headless goddess, is the Great Cosmic Power who helps the sincere and devoted yogi to dissolve his or her mind, including all the preconceived ideas, attachments and habits into the Pure Divine Consciousness. Cutting off the head suggests the separation of the mind from the body, that is the freedom of the consciousness from the material confines of the physical body.
According to Puranic
traditions, Chhinnamastika Devi will be protected by Shiva -
Rudra Mahadev in the four directions. There are four Shiva
temples - Kaleshwar Mahadev in the east, Narayhana Mahadev in
the west, Muchkund Mahadev in the north and Shiva Bari in the
south - which are nearly equidistant from Chintpurni. This also
confirms Chintpurni as the abode of Chhinnamastika Devi.
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Kalia | Date Last Modified: 4 January 2014